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Continuing the fun in Austintown parks

Director considers asking for replacement levy so improvements will go on

Austintown Park supervisor Todd Shaffer tees off at the first hole in the park’s 18-hole disc course. The course is entering its fourth year as a Professional Disc Golf Association tournament site and this year’s tournament is scheduled for June 4. Staff photo / J.T. Whitehouse

AUSTINTOWN — Austintown Township Park is continuing to grow and expand its offerings to residents.

Park supervisor Todd Shaffer said the park system had a decent 2021 in spite of the pandemic. Besides regular maintenance, the system saw Wedgewood Park getting all the attention.

“Wedgewood got a new playground and swing set last year,” Shaffer said. “This year we are in the process of looking at replacing the pavilion. Anyone looking to provide in-kind work, or in donating, can contact me at the park. All we need is a roof with six legs.”

Also for 2022, Shaffer said the attention is on the dog park. He said the plan is to construct a two-bay dog-washing station. The station will be made of cinder block with two bays, a drain and hoses. Park visitors can use the bays to wash their dogs and to get mud off their feet before placing them in a vehicle.

“We are also hoping to add a pavilion for shade in the small dog park,” Shaffer said.

In the evenings, he said the dog park normally is bustling with activity. Many of those visits are from members of “Austintown Doggie Hang-up,” a group that has adopted the Austintown Park dog park.

Shaffer said the new group boasts 244 members and some have multiple dogs. It has fundraisers and events with the proceeds going back into the dog park. In October, the group had a Halloween doggie costume dress-up contest.

DISC GOLF

Another big draw for the park is the 18-hole disc golf course, Shaffer said.

The course was built and opened in 2019 and has drawn the attention of the Professional Disc Golf Association. Last year, the organization hosted a tournament at Austintown Park that drew disc golfers from around the nation.

Shaffer said the PDGA will return June 4 for the tournament and because of the attendance for the event, the 2023 tournament may encompass an entire weekend.

“They like our course,” Shaffer said of the PDGA. “They like our concrete tees and we have signage that includes a scan code. When a golfer comes up to the tee, they can scan the code with their phone and it will bring up a map of the hole they are on.”

For this year, Shaffer is hoping to add some benches every few holes, and eventually at every hole.

MARKET

The Austintown farmers market also is growing for 2022, as it adds year-round dates. It scheduled for Feb. 13, March 12, April 9 and May 15 at the Stacey Pavilion before going every Tuesday from June 8 through Aug. 31. The market then will go back to once per month Sept. 11, Oct. 8 and Dec. 10. November’s date is yet to be determined.

Director Shannon Lehn said it will be a test to see how a year-round market will do, and she always is looking for a helping hand.

“Volunteers are always welcome,” she said. “Interest from our vendors has been fantastic.”

But she said the past two years have been tough. She went through COVID-19 herself and said she was treated poorly when initiating a mask mandate for the market. For 2022, Lehn said she is trying to be understanding.

“I kind of feel like it’s still having training wheels on your child’s bike two years after they learned to ride,” she said. “We know what we need to do. It’s not up to me to make you do it. I will offer you all I can, but it is ultimately your choice.”

She said masks and hand sanitizer will continue to be offered at the markets and for those who still are not comfortable, Lehn has come up with a plan to accommodate.

“If anyone is interested in curbside pickup, they can send me a message through Facebook or email at austintownfarmersmarket@gmail.com and we can make arrangements,” she said. “Prepayment would be necessary for curbside pickup.”

The next market will be 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 13. Lehn said she will have a heart healthy theme because it is the day before Valentine’s Day. There also will be healthy cooking demonstrations and a kids’ craft.

FUNDING CONCERNS

Shaffer said Austintown Township Park gets a lot of activity daily, from the popular Tuesday concerts that will begin June 7 and run through September, to the two free library boxes. The Austintown Junior Women’s League Lending Libraries have seen a constant flow of residents exchanging books, according to Shaffer. The AJWL placed a children’s box and an adults’ box at the park.

For the future, Shaffer said he hopes to continue making improvements in the park. Among those would be adding lights to the baseball field, resurfacing the softball fields and replacing the band shell.

While Shaffer would like to keep the capital improvement projects moving forward, the park’s budget has continued to shrink over the years. The park secured a 0.8-mill levy in 1984 that brought in $289,000. It has continued to be renewed by voters, but hasn’t kept up with inflation. Shaffer said he started at the park with a crew of six. Today, the crew is down to three and the park budget is getting ever tighter.

“We need help to keep heading in the right direction,” Shaffer said. “I would like to see a replacement levy on the ballot to take the levy back to the 0.8 mills it was when it first passed. Right now that levy is collecting at 0.4 mills.”

He said if a replacement levy were to be placed on the ballot, it would cost the average homeowner about $12 per year.

“We have not asked for additional money since 1984,” he said. “Bring us back to the original 0.8 mills and we’ll be good for another 20 years.”

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